Archive for June 8th, 2012

How They Look at You

Friday, June 8th, 2012

“What does ‘need blind’ mean?” and “If I say I will not be applying for financial aid help me get accepted?” are questions often asked. To the first question, a college would say it means “We don’t consider the financial need of an applicant when considering his or her qualifications for admittance.” In fact, most all ‘most competitive” colleges describe their admissions policies as holistic. They look at the grades, test scores, essays, recommendations, activities but not the financial need.

But I say… buyers beware.

To the second question, the answer is no. All families should at least file the FAFSA form. See how financial aid really works here. Though you may have found out that your eligibility of “need based” aid is not possible, circumstances could change either because of younger siblings nearing college age or loss of income. At a College Board seminar I attended, one FAO at an elite private confided in me that if a family doesn’t complete at least the FAFSA prior to freshman year…the chances of receiving aid later would be “highly unlikely”. So, the student can still claim “no” in response to the application question “Will you be applying for financial aid?” But fill out the FAFSA…not the Profile.

There are distinct patterns, typically not known by applicants that differentiate some holistic colleges from others. Most colleges focus entirely on academic qualifications first, and then consider other factors. But some colleges focus first on issues of fit between a college’s needs and an applicant’s needs.

Every college has a unique way of looking at a student. Most common among liberal arts colleges and some of the most competitive private universities, results in a focus on non-academic qualities of applicants, and tends to favor those who are members of minority groups underrepresented on campus and those who can afford to pay the full cost of attendance or COA.

Rachel B. Rubin, a doctoral student in education at Harvard University did extensive research of about 75 elite colleges and universities. Her findings are summarized in Inside Higher Education.

Her research concentrated on the ‘most competitive’ colleges that admit small percentages of their applicants and that generally say the vast majority of applicants are capable of succeeding academically.

I smile when I recall the picture drawn by the Dean of Admissions and Financial aid of Harvard, Bill Fitzsimmons at a College Board admissions workshop I attended. He said with over 32,000 applications every year (most very qualified applicants), it was a tough task. But once they winnowed the pile down to the last 6500 applications, he said this: “We could just as well have thrown all 6500 files out the window on to Harvard Yard and admit the first 1800 we picked up.” That would give us a perfectly diversified and talented freshman class.” At least now it is decidedly more diverse than it was in the late 1880’s.

Speaking of Mr. Fitzsimmons, here are five questions that he responded to in an interview in 2009. The answers are an accurate depiction of Harvard’s policy and philosophy today.